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Simulating mud

Q: I'm trying to build a 4x4 diorama, and I was wondering how to simulate mud. I am just getting back into building models again after a 20-year absence. Thank you for any assistance.

- Derek McKeen
via E-mail

A model always looks better when displayed in its natural habitat, and there's nothing more natural than a 4x4 in mud.

Modeling any type of ground cover is a pretty straightforward procedure. Expanding that procedure to include replicating mud simply requires some finer material and a few extra steps. Before we get muddy, let's review the procedure for attaching basic groundcover to a scenic base:

Sprinkle your ground cover of choice (sand, ground foam, sawdust, etc.) onto the scene and wet it with a spray bottle filled with water and a drop of liquid dish detergent. The detergent acts as a wetting agent that will reduce the surface tension of the water to facilitate the next step, which is to glue the material into place.

Mix a 50:50 solution of white glue and water, then carefully apply the glue mix to the moist ground cover with an eyedropper. You'll see the glue mix spread through the groundwater, which will turn milky white from the glue. After the glue dries, the groundcover will look loose but will actually be hard to the touch and permanently attached to the base.

For a more in-depth explanation of this technique, check out my book How to Build Creative Dioramas for Your Scale Auto Models (Kalmbach), available elsewhere in this issue.

The technique for modeling mud is just about the same, except that the dry material used on the base should be ultrafine sand or powdered clay. This fine material may be available as close as your backyard, depending on where you live.

If there's clay or silt in the soil, sift some dirt through a fine screen and pulverize the sifted material with a hammer until it's superfine. Sprinkle or sift this fine material onto the base, and after it's sprayed and glued, it will turn (no surprise here) into actual mud.

After the surface dries (which will probably take a while, because the finer material will hold water longer) you need to give the surface a realistic "wet" look by painting on a gloss coat over most of the surface, or by filling selected ruts and crevices with clear epoxy or two-part decoupage resin (available in craft stores).

One trick: When we think of mud, we generally think of tire ruts and deep footprints embedded in the muck. Without such ruts your scene may just look like sand that's covered with puddles of water instead of real mud (there is a difference).

While the glue-saturated "mud" is drying, roll a few tires through it to make ruts, and/or poke the surface with a small dowel to create deep footprints. The sand can be applied up to about 1/4 inch at a time and still be workable, but if you want deeper ruts you'll have to modify your method of surface preparation to create ruts and peaks using plaster, followed by the ground-cover application techniques outlined above.


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